Three Hot Tips {The Grove: Tips For Your First Year}

How’s it going being tipsy this week? Oh we Christians, we’re a riot to hang out with! Tip #1, she who laughs first at her own jokes laughs alone. Well, guess what, the joke is on you. That is not really one of my tips. Ha ha! Though laughing is a good tip for most phases of life, isn’t it?

The insights this week are ones to bookmark and share with folks you know in the future who will be moving to the field. M’Lynn reminded us of the realities of team and expectation those new to the field might have for them. Lauren gave first year senders and goers the freedom to go slow. And Hannah gave insights for twenty somethings.

And now I will state the obvious: your first year is memorable. Whether you’re a TCK going to the field as an adult or this is your first time to actually live on foreign soil longer than a summer project, you will remember your first forever. Here is another bonus tip from my first year: do all that you can to avoid group flights. If you are with an agency that sends a herd of people together to the field, it’s mostly to remind you hell is real and what you’re doing is important. It’s also a secret test if you’re willing to pay the cost. I’m convinced of this.

In all seriousness, you are crossing a line. To this day I think of my life as BC/AC. Before I moved to China and After I moved to China. When did I first go to China? Three years BC. When was my first niece born? Six years AC. Chances are, it will be the same for you. Your life will be marked by this year. With that in mind, I do have three tips for you:

1. Welcome to the emotional edges. Chances are you are going to experience more highs and lows this year than you normally do. For some, you will camp out on the high side feeling exhilarated, flooded with joy at the sights, sounds, and conversations. Or feel genuine awe and wonder at small miracles you used to take for granted. Electricity? A washing machine? The internet? A care package? Could life be any better?!

For others, I’m sorry to say, you might find this year being one of severe loneliness and disappointment in yourself, locals, teammates, and God.  You might be awash in hopeless over how big the task is and how little you are or in shock at things now that you can’t imagine will devastate you.

In agony, a person new to the field told me over the phone, “Amy, I just don’t think I can team with them. This is so unacceptable. I don’t know what to do.” I couldn’t image what her teammates were doing that stole her joy when she couldn’t wait to get to the field. She was undone by teammates drinking Coke at a meals. U.N.D.O.N.E. by it. We returned to this conversation over and over throughout her first year.

But for many of you, you’ll be a mix of both. The highs are high, enjoy them. You are blessed to do what you do. But the lows are low. I wish I could spare you. When you feel them coming, don’t hide them out of shame. You’re normal. Get people praying for you and be gentle to yourself. It’s okay to be low. It’s not fun, but it’s okay.

2. Know you’re going to change. How can you not when the traffic is different, the views of women is unlike back home, even standing in line (hello, how different can it be? Um, very.) is unlike anything you could imagine. You might be exposed to poverty in ways that will ebb at the edges of your soul or live in a land that is so “beyond God” you don’t know where to start. You might see your home country in ways that make your heart beat with pride or make you feel shame and embarrassment and confusion.

Here’s the other thing about the ways you’ll change, you may not see the depth of it for years. Some changes will be small in terms of effecting who you are as a person. Does it really matter in the grand scheme of things how you cross the street? No. But in other more significant ways, you might find you are no longer as in sync with your home culture. This call comes with blessing and loss, doesn’t it? So, for better or worse, you’re going to change and grow. As will your friendships, your marriage, and your parenting.

3. Enjoy! If you happen to be with cynical old-hands, please ignore their grumpiness. I admit, over the years it got harder and harder to be thrilled with new teammates reporting on using a squatty for the first time!!!! (The exclamations were them, definitely not me) down to every little detail. I get it. Your bladder was full, you were desperate, it smelled, urine came out, you lived. I’m very impressed.

This is what I’m talking about. Ignore me.

My first year was pre-internet, pre-Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Wechat, Skype. When I returned home for a few weeks after my first year, I brought with me five full photo albums with about 1,000 pictures (Okay, there were WAY more because I glued pictures into the front and back on the wasted blank pages.). I couldn’t wait to share my life with friends and family. I’ll never forget this comment:

We get it, you ate food.

Well now. But you don’t get how exciting pudding is from a care package! Or did you see how round those tortillas were I rolled? What, you don’t like a close up of the cooked eel?

Enjoy! Take pictures of whatever you want. Be excited over . . . everything. Be moved by how much bigger and amazing God is than you could have imagined. God said, “Taste and see that the Lord is good, happy is she who take refuge in me.” Do.

If we were sitting down chatting over a cup of chai and you ask me what I’d suggest for the year, that’s what I’d have for you. Welcome to the emotional edges. Know you’re going to change. Enjoy!

Oh and we’re glad you’re here. Truly.

What do you think of these tips? What would you add?


This is what we call The Grove.  It’s where we all gather to share our thoughts, our words, and our art on our weekly prompt.  So join us in the comments.  Show us your art work by adding an image. And link up your own blog posts on this week’s prompt.  Click here for details and instructions


  1. Laura July 9, 2015


    I loved your honest and encouraging words today! I especially loved the BC/AC part. When I’m trying to remember when things happened, I’m constantly saying, “Before Portugal, before South Africa, after Portugal and before Ireland.” It sounds crazy, but I remember all life events for the past ten years based on what country I was in or what country I was headed to. 🙂

    1. Amy Young July 10, 2015

      It doesn’t sound crazy at all :)! I think most of us organize memories this way … at least that’s my theory and I’m sticking with it! 🙂

  2. Elizabeth July 9, 2015

    The Emotional Edges — oh yes, WAY more emotions than before! I noticed that too! And the part about changing? That is my favorite part of living overseas 🙂

  3. ErinMP July 9, 2015

    Amy- thank you for blog- especially on the emotional edges. (since I’m still new I’ll add a few !!!!! … now my co-worker’s reactions to “I saw a big snake!!!!!” or “There was a lizard in my bedroom-my bedroom!!!!!” or “There’s no toilet paper here, but I found some in my purse!!!!” make way more sense LOL).

    1. Amy Young July 10, 2015

      Please do!!! We need your joy and enthusiasm!! I really mean that 🙂 Toilet paper when you need it? !!!! Lizard? Bedroom? !!! 🙂

  4. Michele Womble July 9, 2015

    5 photo albums and a thousand pictures! Yep, that was totally me, too. Also “pre” all those things you mentioned.


    “Enjoy!” – yes!  don’t forget to enjoy it!

    1. Amy Young July 10, 2015

      Oh and the effort and joy of getting the photos developed :). I kind of miss that … wondering what I would find when I picked up my pictures 🙂

      1. Michele Womble July 10, 2015

        Yeah…I kind of miss that, too, but I wouldn’t trade the ability to instantly know that the picture didn’t turn out so I can re-take it right away…

  5. Ashley Felder July 9, 2015

    Looking back at my first year, I’m not sure what could’ve made it better. It was terrible due to my slanted perspective and terrible attitude! Maybe I needed the daily reminder that this culture, albeit totally opposite from mine, isn’t bad or wrong for being who they are. They just are. Sure, they have leaps and bounds to make in the hygiene and politeness departments, but for now, it is what it is. Maybe that was taught sometime during our training, but I was desperately trying to get my 13mo old over jet lag. I remember nearly nothing. 😉

    Oh, and the description of the squattie. Wow. Still laughing!

    1. Amy Young July 10, 2015

      I’m still sorry that your first year was so terrible 🙁 … but I also want people to know it is a possibility. I was on a two person team and at the end of the year if we had taken an exit poll our versions of the year/experience would have been rather different. And my teammates experiences and reactions were as valid as mine! LOVING everything doesn’t make you “better” than those who struggle with the year (it probably does make you happier, but that’s not the same as better). Anyway, I remember lunches with that cute 13 mo old :). You’re a good momma!

  6. brooke July 10, 2015

    I will never forget my first years. I had 2. One year I spent in Europe and there I decided I wanted to be an M. After returning home to study for M work, I now am in Africa. So many lessons were learned in both of my “first years”.
    I learned how important it is to work with a team. I learned how important it is to have a supportive sending agency. I learned that all organizations are human and will make mistakes. I learned that I need to depend on God’s strength not my own. I learned to sit and listen to M’s with more seniority – they have learned through mistakes and time. If you heed some of the lessons they learned, you save yourself a lot of time. I watched how different families functioned on the field as a couple, as a family, as a Christian, as a minister. I learned how hard it is to live with someone who isn’t walking with the Lord. I learned to value my God-time. I learned to speak a new language and how important it is to learn that language. I learned to “learn” a new culture. I learned to make my home my haven of rest. I learned that when you make the long term commitment, you make it because God sends you not because of a need you see. I learned from others how to stand firm in the faith and your calling. I learned how to worship in a new way. I learned many good and bad things.
    I learned that you must keep in the Word and keep in supportive relationships on the team in order to last 14 years as I have.
    I learned that those that took time to take M training courses before coming and to learn the language last longer. I learned that when you don’t get involved with the nationals and the culture it is harder. I learned the a strong team of workers is important. I learned that putting God first, family 2nd and your ministry 3rd keeps you here longer

    1. Amy Young July 10, 2015

      So many great lessons here, Brooke. I found myself nodding and going “yup, yup, yup … oh I forgot that one, yup! YES!” Thanks for sharing your wisdom!!

  7. Julie July 10, 2015

    I kind of wish I had read this two or three years ago. I couldn’t handle how obsessed my coworker was with sweets, Coke, MSG flavourings, etc. And it’s crazy how, when I was under stress, those things felt huge in my mind! 🙂

    1. Amy Young July 10, 2015

      Stress can really warp things, can’t it :)! This is a good reminder for any season! But especially at times of huge transition.

  8. Hannah July 10, 2015


    What an excellent article! Gosh, this was so good and I felt it to my core as I was reading. Emotional edges, for sure, and yes, that year MARKS you. Before, after. TELL ME ABOUT IT. Gosh. Thank you so much for your words!

  9. Natalie Bautista May 2, 2016

    Thank you for this post. It’s almost a year later from when you wrote this, but I just moved to Colombia yesterday! I read this post having only been 8 hours here, and yet it was exactly what I needed to hear. Again, thank you!

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